|A Brief History of Letterpress Printing
Part Two: Letterpress Today
Click Here for Part 1.
Click Here for a Quick Overview of how a Forme is 'Imposed'.
Letterpress Printing still embodies the original traditions
of centuries past, and in particular, Johan Gutenberg. Gutenberg understood that the contemporary
eye of his time was accustomed to the beautifully rendered manuscripts which were then the order
of the day. He strove to equal them, to the degree that in his original fonts, he actually cast
several types of the same letters to emmulate the hand variations of a Calligrapher!
Today we are appealing to an audience who's eyes are
accustomed to Offset and Digital printing, a modern process in which the image lays flat on a
surface with no textural dimension or tactile dynamic whatsoever. Images tend to seem sterile
and "institutional" when compared to text and illustrations printed via positive relief process . . .
The artisan appeal of Letterpress-printed items has brought about widespread interest in this ancient
process not only with individuals, but with institutions and corporations as well. The Letterpress
printed business card, for instance, is a must for an individual or organisation that wishes to convey a sense of
quality, tradition, innovation, and individuality. Universities are including Letterpress as part
of their graduate cirriculae. In short, Letterpress "talks".
Letterpress has enjoyed the application of the most
current trends in design technology. While traditional metal and wood type is still used, much of the
designing done today is digitally executed by computer, rendering "The Black Art" absolutely relevant
in today's world. Of course, traditional hand drawn designs rendered in india ink and bristol
board is still a valuable asset. This is yet another part of the beauty of the ancient Letterpress:
the wide variety of design modes. At G. Johanson, Printer, both hand and digital
methods are utilised, often hand in hand.
Letterpress comes into it's own in any high contrast
environment, which makes it ideal for hand drawn designs, letters, line drawings, calligraphy,
engrossing and flourishing. Letterpress can render detail almost as finely as an engraved
piece. In fact, most of the world's postage stamps of the nineteenth century were printed
via the Letterpress/positive surface relief process. This makes Letterpress ideal for finely
(bespoke) printed calling cards, announcements, greeting cards, stationery of all sorts, books,
pamphlets and other publications, drink coasters (the classic beer coasters of early 20th
Century Germany were printed in this manner!), labels, fine art, the possiblilities are endless.
Even in the Music industry today, a great deal of attention is paid to the Letterpress printing
of CD jackets and covers. Fine eating establishments frequently consider Letterpress Printed menus a
The Above Video shows just one aspect of Letterpress
today: the printing of a two colour business card. The video shows the set-up and printing of the
blue "spot" colour on this two colour business card. The press used is our 1936 8x12 Chandler and
Price "New Series" platen job press, and the sound track is a song called "The Printer & His
Devil". The lyrics are posted on my blog. The video is seven minutes long.
I Hope You Enjoyed this small excursion into the Art of Letterpress. The point of it is to enhance your understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of what Letterpress is all about - no matter whom you purchase from!